Niskayuna Police Department Racial Bias Audit Report Released | WAMC

Niskayuna Police Department Racial Bias Audit Report Released

Feb 12, 2021

An outside audit of the Schenectady County Town of Niskayuna’s police department has been released. The audit reveals a racial disparity in arrests in the mostly white community.

A screen-captured image of the racial bias audit report completed by firm CNA
Credit CNA/Town of Niskayuna

The suburban Town of Niskayuna borders the City of Schenectady. During a presentation of a racial bias audit of the Niskayuna Police Department Thursday night – which included data on arrests – Zoe Thorkildsen from the auditing firm CNA broke down the numbers. To provide perspective, she compared arrest data between the town and city.

“For Niskayuna residents, it’s 22 percent Black community members, and for Schenectady residents it’s 38 percent Black community members. And just as a comparison point, per the census, Black community members make up about 2.3 percent of the Niskayuna population, they make up about 20 percent of the Schenectady population,” said Thorkildsen.

Thorkildsen also shared the numbers on what’s referred to as proactive police response.

“These are responses where the officer initiated the activity, it wasn’t a response to a call for service or a 911 call. And we actually see almost identical numbers – actually, a little bit higher – in the disproportianality there. So this is definitely suggestive that even when you’re considering the baseline as a normalizing factor, that there are still disparities. And those disparities are most likely accounted for – at least in part – by biased behavior and biased law enforcement activity,” said Thorkildsen.

While traffic stop data, explained Thorkildsen, reflected the makeup of the commuter population, Black community members were overrepresented in use of force data. The audit pulled data from a five-year period, but in only two of those years was police drawing their weapon classified as a use of force.

The racial bias audit comes as the town is undertaking its own work to “reimagine” policing under a state directive. The audit makes 73 recommendations based on 46 findings, some of which were highlighted during Thursday night’s presentation. Recommendations include a review of traffic stop data collection protocol, an exploration of purchasing body worn cameras, a review of the police complaint process, the implementation of a ban on choke holds, and a commitment to community policing strategies.

The auditors recognized Police Chief Frances Wall’s coffee with a cop program and community cookouts, but also recommended officers get more time to engage with community members and patrol on foot, and that a plan for community policing and engagement be developed – strategies to build upon an observed high level of mutual trust.

Recommendations were also highlighted in areas of training – including that at least two police force members receive school resource officer training, that an annual public report be made available on recruitment, and that a transparent promotion process be developed.

Niskayuna Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed said she supports the recommendations.

“It is our hope that the all of these recommendations are going to make their underway into the final comprehensive plan to be submitted to the state,” said Syed.

Syed, a Republican, encouraged public comment on the audit as the town develops its police reform plan.

“So please know that we want all of your voices to be heard. This plan is only going to be as good as all of your input. We really, really do want all of your input on this,” said Syed.

Town board member Bob McPartlon said the audit had the full support of the town board.

“This was not something that the town had to do as part of our reform and reinvention of our police department, but we felt it necessary to do and – as I said – was supported by everyone on the town board. And we’re happy that everyone here in the community is getting involved and giving their input. That’s what this whole process and procedure is about,” said McPartlon.

To view the audit visit: 

https://www.niskayuna.org/sites/g/files/vyhlif4781/f/uploads/npd_racial_bias_audit_public_comment_report.pdf